Conservation Status of the Bonobo in the 1 Million Hectare Siforzal/Danzaer Logging Concession in Central CongoIntroduction
In 1995, while working on a bushmeat feature, I ended up in Kinshasa, in what was then Zaire. I requested an interview with a Mr. Ongaro, the GM of the SIFORZAL logging company - the biggest such outfit in the country. I was told that all relations with foreign media and conservation issues were dealt with by the Danzer head office in Reutlingen, Germany.
I wrote to Danzer asking to visit their concessions (3) on my next trip. I was told that a policy decision had been made not to invite any representatives of any foreign NGO, due to the 'unfair' publicity that logging had received in the Western media. I was further informed that SIFORZAL was working with local conservation NGOs instead. I asked to be provided with details of these NGO's, and any copies of reports that had been compiled. I also asked if I could designate a representative of such a local NGO to visit one of their concessions . I did not receive a response.
In mid-1996, I received a copy of a report prepared by two Belgian researchers studying bonobos in the Lomako area: It stated; "The situation of the bonobo seems very bad along the Yekokora River. People of the Ngombe tribe are entering the area from the North to hunt for bushmeat. These people are very efficient hunters, who hunt as many as possible and then move to another place when the forest is 'empty'. They sell the meat to workers of SIFORZAL, which is exploiting the forest on the right bank of the Yekokora river. Thanks to this company, transport of smoked bushmeat, which includes bonobos and live young bonobos, to Kinshasa, is easy."
In early 1997, I again asked to be invited to visit a concession during an upcoming visit to Zaire. I was informed by a Mr. Herzog, of Danzer Furnierwerke that the position had not changed and that I would not be welcome.
In mid-February 1998, I returned from another trip to Central Africa. During my visit to the DCR, some friends and I decided, at the request of Reinhard Behrend of Retted den Regenwald, to visit the SIFORZAL Mentole concession on the southern bank of the Congo River. The objective was to establish the conservation status of the bonobo in these parts, and the role logging plays in it.
Unfortunately, the results were less then encouraging, and in many ways highly contradictory to the statements made in the various pieces of correspondence received from Danzer and addressed to the World Society for the Protection of Animals and Retted den Regenwald on the topic of "Primate Hunting in Central Africa."
We spent two weeks travelling along large sections of the Lopori, Yekokora and Lotondo rivers. We interviewed dozens of villagers, village chiefs, former and present employees of SIFORZAL/DANZER (now SIFORCO), missionaries, logging company executives from a neighbouring concession, and many hunters. We cross-checked all information with different sources and recorded many of the interviews. The conclusion we reached is that SIFORZAL is in many ways directly or indirectly involved in the commercialization of the bushmeat trade and the illegal hunting of the bonobo and other protected species.
Below are the main points, which will be part of a more detailed report:
1. Most of the 12-gauge shotguns used in this area have been produced in the workshop/garage at this concession. Hunters order them from SIFORZAL workmen and delivery time is generally about two months. Our informants assumed that SIFORZAL tools and materials are used to produce these guns. (We photographed one, which had blown up in a hunter's face).
2. The SIFORZAL boats are used to supply practically all the cartridges used in the region. Independent traders travel on board with ammunition, but to a large extent the trade seems to be controlled by the boat captains and the Personnel manager, a Mr. Lobilo. (We were told that cartridges also occasionally arrive on the company aircraft). The cartridges are sold in shops at the SIFORZAL port, at the different market sites, and from the residence of the personnel manager. (When we arrived, the old stock had run out, due to the temporary closure of the MACC ammunition factory in Pointe Noire, Congo. The day we departed, 50 boxes with 2 500 cartridges arrived, which we estimated, with the hunters, would result in another 50-100 bonobos being shot out of the trees).
3. When cutting crews go out in the morning, up to six hunters travel on the vehicle. Generally, one or two company employees bring their own gun and cartridges. They are then excused from logging duty by the Team Chef and spend the day hunting, returning on the same vehicle in the afternoon, and sharing out part of their bounty. Besides these company employees, professional hunters are also taken on board, and they are deposited en route or at the road head, where they follow the same routine.
4. As for the prospecting crews: They spend up to two weeks on survey work, and they are supplied with one or two company employees as hunters, plus 50 cartridges.
5. In the past, most of the meat so procured was eaten by the 200+ employees. For about the last two years, most of it has been exported on SIFORZAL boats and floats to Kinshasa. It would appear that this coincides with the company lifting the ban on passengers travelling on these timber floats, and employees and their wives are now offered free passage. As a result, many wives of employees have become bushmeat traders, buying meat from hunters along the various rivers and at the bi-monthly market at Bompindo, and then transporting the meat to the capital. (We saw and filmed seven smoked bonobo carcasses, even though there was a serious shortage of cartridges.)
6. An 'invalid man' has, on at least two occasions, bought orphaned bonobo for NZ 800 000 at this same market, and transported them on the SIFORZAL boats to Kinshasa.
7. In many villages and at the market, we found heavy steel cables, as is used to tie the log floats together. They were for sale in what appear to be standard lengths of 1.5 metres. These are then unwound to make snares, and it was confirmed that all these cables come from - or are possibly stolen from - SIFORZAL.
In talking to hunters who have worked areas previously logged by SIFORZAL, such as Issanzani, Beongo, Mentole and Lomoko, it was confirmed that, when the base moves on, there is practically no game left, certainly no genetically viable populations of bonobo.
This brings me to DANZER's claim that they had agreed to cease logging in 'concessions' and hand over one of the old bases, so that WWF could turn the area in question into a bonobo sanctuary. Based on the above-outlined findings, I am very surprised that WWF would have accepted this offer, since there is little point in protecting bonobos that are no longer there. The way to go would be to hand over part of the concession that has never been logged, with assurances that it will not be touched: Like the proposed sanctuary area between the Lomako River and the Yekokora, which is part of the SIFORZAL concession that was supposedly returned to the government.
Against this background, we went to see forestry officials in Kinshasa, who provided us with documentation concerning the status of the present concession (including the above sanctuary portion), it appears to have been returned to the government based on an agreement signed by Mr. Hans Jorg Danzer on March 15, 1989, in which 821,573 hectares were 'retrocede a la Republique du Zaire'. This same area is marked on the corresponding, up-to-date map, as 'ARRETE'. However, SIFORZAL is logging in the middle of it. As for the Beongo area, which was supposedly given up, this is now part of a new concession: Convention No. 0057/CAB/MI CNT/94 du 05/07/94. No other documents were available, and it would be interesting to know on the basis of what convention SIFORZAL is at present logging at K 7.
I am not a forestry expert, and I was not able to assess to what extent the company complies with local forestry laws or any of the criteria stipulated by the FSC. But, if what goes on with the fauna is an indicator, than I would assume that SIFORZAL is a very long way from ever having its timber certified. Danzer also seems to be handing out an URSPRUNGSZEUGNIS, in which the former minister for the environment confirms that the SIFORZAL logging operations in every way comply with the law, that the most up-to-date techniques and machinery are used to extract timber, and that the off-take is sustainable. If this is indeed the case, why has SIFORZAL/Danzer not proceeded to getting 'properly' certified?
While I am not an expert on the social conditions of the workforce either, it became clear, in talking to the local population, that what is stated in various pieces of correspondence is very different from the story they tell:
- 'SIFORZAL supports its employees with millet, rice and maniok'. They say
that they receive no such commodities,
- 'SIFORZAL offers free medical care for all employees and their family
members as well as school education for their children'. This is correct,
to the extent that a dispensary exists and is staffed by a nurse. No doctor
is available. As for schooling, all the parents pay and employ the teacher
through a cooperative that they call VIP.
- DANZER states: 'Those who work in the concessions are natives from the region'. We were told that only about 50% are from the area, and that includes very few of the Mongo tribes people who actually consider the forest, which is at present being logged, as their own. The missionaries told us that, whenever the concession base is moved, a lot of employees are laid off. They are not paid in cash, but in items that would otherwise be left behind, like housing material and spare parts, and, at these times, the Basankasu market is full of this 'junk'.
- DANZER states that: 'The natives live together with their families in
their traditional village communities'. What we filmed from the air were
four rows of mud huts with thatched roofs in a bare bulldozed clearing.
More like a shanty town than the traditional villages we visited.
- DANZER goes on: 'We want to generally state that hunting in Africa belongs
to the traditional rights of the native population'. The fact is: The guns,
the cartridges, the market hunting, the steel snares, the lorries and ships
transporting the smoked meat, is not exactly traditional as far
as hunting is concerned. Many forest areas that are hunted are hunted by
tribespeople - some attracted by the SIFORZAL operation - who are not
considered native to the area or as having traditional hunting rights.
Upon our return to Kinshasa, we did twice meet with Mr. Kalinda Kimanuka, who heads a new conservation NGO: Organization pour la Protection L'Environment au Congo, which operates out of the SIFORZAL offices. He sounded very sincere in wanting to be independent and to take action to try to save the remaining bonobo populations. I suggested that an immediate response was necessary, and that maybe Danzer/SIFORZAL might now be prepared to invite myself, Mr Kamanuka and a representative of a local NGO (Les Amis des Animaux au Congo) for a visit to all three concession to explain to staff and executives why drastic changes will be necessary, and why foreign NGO's and the consumers of SIFORZAL timber will not accept the status quo. Our bringing the message to the workers, who now seem to consider access to bushmeat a fringe benefit, might make it easier for the SIFORZAL management to instigate these changes. Such an event could be documented by the media to illustrate that action is possible and is being taken.
I would, however, like to point out that such action would not in any way be part of a sustainable logging agreement, which would need to be based on many other aspects, as stipulated by the FSC.
I suggest that a meeting be arranged with decision-makers at Danzer in Germany as a matter of urgency. These findings and action proposals should be discussed and, at the same time, the company's official position should be presented to the conservation community and the media.
Karl Ammann, Nanyuki Kenya 7 Feb 1998
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